Be it flexible workplace, workspace, leasing solutions or coworking: the demand for flexible workstations is increasing rapidly; an end is not foreseen. The original concept of flexibility is nothing new, because business centers have been offering this service for a long time. But where does the extremely increased demand come from, also and especially with large companies? The following article tries to find an answer and sheds light on the phenomenon of coworking.
Digitalization, globalization and demographic change are ever increasingly forcing companies to question their business processes as well as their business ideas much more than in the past, and to react flexibly and appropriately to rapidly changing framework conditions and customer requirements.
One tool to meet the challenges is to introduce novel forms of work, including of coworking.
Coworking: shared economy and community in the foreground
Coworking as a form of shared economy is, in its original form, oriented towards self-employed people, freelancers, start-ups and interim office occupants under the prime ethos “freedom and independence” and offers basic-to-“hip-design” open-plan spaces with complementary retreat and meeting space, flexibly usable mostly non-territorial workstations for rent, whether by the hour, day or month, and longer, with shared use of infrastructure such as IT, printer, tea / coffee bar and seating group(s).
The sometimes dense arrangement of workplaces in the open-plan areas and thus the close spatial proximity of the users makes it easy for coworkers to get into conversation and exchange ideas about projects and receive feedback and support for specific questions. Last but not least, ideas for joint projects and start-ups can emerge.
Networking and a sense of community in the coworking areas is actively promoted via collaborative professional and non-professional events organized by both members and operators of the space. beyond this different coworking spaces network at a global level, with the network radius and thus the potential transfer of knowledge and the potential business opportunities extending far beyond the local coworking location.
Against this background, coworking spaces have earned their reputation as creative hubs and idea incubators, and above all as places where working is fun.
For established companies who wish to harness the creativity and innovation potential of the coworking concept, the concept of corporate coworking emerged. Here, two approaches have developed: internally initiated coworking and external solutions involving leasing space from coworking providers.
In the case of internally initiated corporate coworking, companies actively create their own coworking space, be it in-house within a certain area or in a specially designed building. Accelerator and incubator programs that invite freelancers and startups to engage in concrete product development in the short or longer term often form part of this corporate coworking strategy. With this option, the company retains broad control over the space and the invited external users. At the same time, it bears the full cost risk and requires an active operator (e.g. with regard to networking with other spaces if desired). Within its own workforce and externally, the company positions itself as a consistent representative of new forms of work.
For the external solution, i.e. the use of existing coworking spaces, all set-up costs for space and equipment are eliminated for the company and they remain flexible with regard to running costs. The integration into existing co-working concepts can vary in degree and intensity, from temporary pop-in to permanent rental.
In the simplest form, the company organizes events in coworking spaces, giving employees a sense of the “spirit” provided there. Employees can delve a little deeper if they participate in events offered by the coworking operator, possibly active as a sponsor / speaker. This opens-up possibilities for knowledge transfer beyond one’s own company boundaries, for networking and, if necessary, for finding service providers or cooperation partners for projects between companies and locally hired coworking members.
Renting a limited number of non-territorial workplaces in a space as an option for temporary on-demand “change of air” for employees gives them the opportunity to generate new ideas in a different environment and to exchange ideas with the others they meet there. Hiring of fixed office space for project teams or departments, normally at least medium-term, is the most consistent implementation, but care should be taken here by the company to ensure that the project team or department participates in the opportunities offered by coworking space and does not become an island over time.
All of these options are designed to help corporates drive change in employee thinking and functioning.
Accompanying Corporate Coworking through Change Management
The original concept of coworking differs considerably from the classic employee workplace: members in the coworking space are not dependent on each other, they work for themselves or (normally project-related) for different companies. At the same time they live a culture of mutual support, communicating with each other and learning from each other. They normally work independently, for example, deciding freely about the time and duration of their presence and deciding who to contact when.
Any company which sends employees to coworking spaces and expects them to benefit from community-oriented thinking, has to rethink and, if necessary, adapt its work culture in terms of attendance and trust. At the same time, it must take appropriate measures, such as change management, to ensure that it adequately introduces its employees to the new culture and, in the best case, gains their enthusiasm for it.
You might also be interested in “Strong Growth in Coworking” by Matthias Huss.
By Ursula-Beate Neisser, Head of Research at Cushman & Wakefield Germany
Ursula-Beate Neißer has headed the research department of Cushman & Wakefield in Germany since the end of 2015. She and her team are responsible for the continuous monitoring and analysis of the German real estate markets and the regular reporting on these. In addition, she is responsible for information and statements related to Germany in international reports.